A Lazy Gardener Compost Heap
Certainly you have read complicated instructions and formulas for making compost, generally involving purchasing a rather expensive compost bin (the rotating ones would be great for turning the pile though!). Much of it is really unnecessary, nature has been making compost without equipment or formulas for eternity.
However, even for a "lazy heap", you will want to keep some basic guidelines in mind in order to produce a rich compost relatively quickly. First, select a well drained spot. Ideally "hidden", perhaps behind bushes or tall perennials. Pile up plant and kitchen waste as it accumulates. Add grass clippings whenever available, leaves green or brown, and other organic material. Add a shovelful of dirt once in a while (taking it from your gardens will help you rotate spent soil with compost). Keep a container in your kitchen to collect only raw whole fruit and vegetable waste. NEVER put in meats, eggs or cooked foods, however eggshells and coffee grounds are great. Each evening deposit the waste into the pile, bury it a bit to discourage pests (or neighborhood dogs) from rummaging the pile. Farm animal (plant eating animals) manure is excellent if you have it available, NEVER pet waste. Do aim for roughly 1/5 green and moist with 4/5 dry and brushy. Keep the pile moist, but not wet.
Turn the pile with a pitchfork frequently to speed up decomposition. If you have deposited large pieces in the pile, they will take a little longer to decompose. If all is working properly your heap should be quite warm inside, if not downright hot. If it's not, you may need to add more green or moisture, or turn more often. A "cold compost" will not kill weed seeds and should not be used for spreading in your gardens, as the seeds will germinate. An easily managed heap should be about 3 cubic feet. Rather than continue to make your heap larger, slowing down the process, start a second heap to decompose while you use up the first.
If you get a little too neglectful of the pile, no problem! It will just take a little longer to produce nice compost. The compost is ready to use when it looks dark and rich, beginning to resemble soil. Before digging it in to a planting bed, remove larger pieces that have not fully decomposed and either keep it in the heap, or add it to your second heap. Compost that is not quite finished and a little rough can be dug into an empty bed in fall, the decomposition will continue until you plant in spring. The decomposition process will use nitrogen to complete, so dig in a little fertilizer to offset, especially if it's close to planting season. For additional information about compost and soil amendments, see the Soil Amendments page.
If you have never used fresh compost, you will be amazed at how grateful your plants will be!